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Probox2 Air Android TV Box Review

Hop To

Nice remote and a pretty interface but not much else

by Mark Hodgkinson Dec 27, 2016 at 7:26 AM

  • SRP: £85.00

    What is the Probox 2 Air?

    This 4K HDR capable Android media player comes as something of an unknown quantity as we’ve not received samples from the manufacturer before. The Probox2 Air comes in two varieties, although there should be no difference in overall performance between the two since it’s just a matter of one of them coming with an additional remote (Remote+) control in the box. There’s a £20 premium on the base £65ish (November 2016) price for the privilege, however, so it will need to perform. As we intimated above, we have no real idea what to expect from the Probox2 Air, other than it comes pre-loaded with KODI, YouTube and other well-known apps so join us in our voyage of discovery.

    Specification

    The Probox 2 Air runs software based on Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow) from an Amlogic S905X processor with an accompanying Mali-450 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM and 16B of built-in flash storage. All testing was based on latest operating software (PROBOX2-AIR-20160930), as of the time of review.

    Design & Connections

    The Probox 2 won’t win any design awards and the build quality is mediocre with a cheap feeling back plastic casing housing the components; it feels fairly sturdy, however, and the blue power light on the front is tapered at either end to at least give it some air of distinction. The basic remote works over infra-red and while it’s far from remarkable, it works well enough, albeit the range is only about 2.5m and you need to be pointing it pretty much directly at the box for it to work efficiently.

    Probox2 Air
    The Remote+ is very much in the style of that of a Roku streaming player, design-wise, and obviously has extra features over the basic handset. There are gyroscopes inside which is useful for motion based mouse pointer control, although we did feel the need to reduce the Mouse Pointer speed in Settings as it was a bit over-reactive for our tastes otherwise. There’s also a microphone built-in but we couldn’t get it to work with Google Now, which is a major miss and renders it far less useful than it promises to be. There are four modes in which the Remote+ can operate; Standard acts as a usual TV box remote with buttons used for all navigation; Mouse brings up the on-screen cursor for navigation and there are two ‘Game’ modes – one horizontal and the other vertical. All-in-all, the Remote+ is OK but with £20 at your disposal, there are better 3rd party alternatives on the market in the same price bracket.
    Probox2 Air
    The connections are on the left-hand side and at the rear, with the side mounted connections comprising one USB 2.0 port and a Micro-SD card slot. At the back is an S/PDiF digital audio out, a fast (100Mb) Ethernet connection, an HDMI 2.0a HDMI port and a further USB 2.0 input. There’s a ‘nub’ for the supplied antenna on the right-hand side if you wish to take advantage of the 2.4/5Ghz Wi-Fi (up to 802.11ac) and Bluetooth (4.0) capabilities.

    User Interface, Features & Apps

    There are a choice of two launchers (home-screens) for the Probox 2 although there’s a fundamental problem in how they are implemented. The Basic launcher is typical of an Android TV Box in presenting an array of tiles that act as shortcuts to various categories including Movies & TV, Music, Photo and Game. You can add whatever apps you like to the category for easier access later on. To the left of those are dedicated tiles for KODI, Google Play and a Task Killer while, beneath those, are five slots to which, again, you can assign any app you like. It would have been nice had the tiles been totally customisable but it’s attractive enough. The other launcher option is pretty much the same thing again, only with larger, easier to read tiles but still in the same grey colour scheme. Oh, and the issue noted above is that switching between the two is an unnecessarily painful exercise involving the user having to go to the apps menu to kill the currently used Launcher in order to use the other. We think Probox has tried to place a software switch to perform this action on the bottom right of the screen but it wasn’t working on the sample provided. In any case, we preferred the stock launcher so it was no big deal in practise.
    Probox2 Air User Interface, Features & Apps
    Probox2 Air User Interface, Features & Apps

    Compared to many of the recent products we’ve seen in this sector, the Probox2 Air isn’t particularly blessed with a rich feature-set. Most of the development budget seems to have been spent on providing a pretty interface and designing the remote. Internet delivered updates OTA (Over The Air) are always a good thing and the Probox possesses this ability but since the last, and only, update was dated end of September 2016, they’re hardly prolific and the changelog consisted of one item – ‘System Optimisations,’ so it’s not like the manufacturer was adding anything new. For an £85 box that’s not a particularly encouraging state of affairs, in all honesty. Like most of the ilk, the Probox 2 hasn’t the necessary accreditation to stream HD from DRM protected apps such as Amazon or Netflix but at least the gyroscopic controls in the Remote+ make navigation of the touchscreen based versions of those apps – which is what you’re limited to – easy enough. The only way this box is going to justify the outlay, in fact, is if it can earn it’s stripes as a very good media hub…

    Video & Audio Performance

    As we said above, the Probox2 comes pre-installed with KODI, our go-to choice as media management (and usually playback) software. Unfortunately, and highly lamentably, Probox has chosen to ship the device with a version chock-full of pre-loaded piracy add-ons, allowing easy access to copyright protected content, including movies, TV shows and music. This is not something we’ll tolerate at AVForums and actually puts anyone selling them in the UK at risk of prosecution. We therefore took the step of deleting all the app data prior to testing which not only sanitised the device but also had another positive effect in making KODI run orders of magnitude more smoothly – frankly it ran like a dog with all those add-ons installed.

    Like other devices with AMLogic S905x processors, the Probox2 has a setting for HDMI Self Adaption which is supposed to make the device output a signal matching the original framerate of the video content and it’s very important if you value smooth playback. Unfortunately, in the case of the Probox, the setting is completely ineffectual on any app, including KODI and SPMC which is a version of KODI specifically designed for Android devices; worse still, SPMC was rendered unusable on the Probox2 as it crashed, randomly, on a frequent basis. For that reason, all testing was done via KODI 16.1. We also had issues in KODI in creating multiple SMB or NFS shares from our NAS meaning you could only share one folder at a time from either, which is going to be a major stumbling block for some.

    As usual, test files were stored on a networked storage device (NAS), in this case a QNAP TS-x51A, on a gigabit network, as well as a Samsung M3 USB 3.0 HDD. Video and audio was assessed using a Samsung UE65JU7000 Ultra HD TV and two older Full HD TVs, so on we go:

    4K Tests

    KODI

    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate but played OK
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24.000fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate but played OK

    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/25.000fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate but played OK
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MKV/59.940fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate but played OK
    3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps
    Video & audio drop-outs - frequent
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/59.940fps
    Video & audio drop-outs - frequent
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate but played OK
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/50.00fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate but played OK
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate but played OK

    We’ve taken the stance that the the majority of users will not be interested in swapping the output frequency of the video signal, in the settings menu, each time they load up some content, which is why the table above contains a lot of negative marks. To be fair, however, the Probox2 actually played the overwhelming majority of the test files without stutter, drop-outs or audio issues so if you can cope with 24/23.976 frames per second in a 60Hz signal – and clearly many can – then you’ll be OK with the performance but, frankly, we pretty much insist on a device being able to dynamically adjust refresh rates to make it passable as a media streamer. The only real playback glitch was with a 29.970 fps HEVC encode, which doesn’t overly trouble us, in the UK and Europe, but US based readers might feel differently.

    We’ve adopted the same policy regarding refresh rate switching below; again, your choice if you can cope with a mismatched signal. Just as a note, our opinion is that 23.976/24 fps is just about tolerable within a 60Hz signal, on this device/chipset, but 25/50 fps is far from it.

    SD/HD/Interlaced

    KODI

    720 x 576/MP2/mpg/25.000fps - Interlaced
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate and deinterlacing is poor
    1280 x 720/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.00fps - Interlaced
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate and deinterlacing is poor
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/24.000fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.000fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/29.970fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/30.000fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/59.970fps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/ISO/23.976fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps
    Failed to automatically adjust refresh rate
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/23.976fps
    Played very badly with stutter and drop-outs
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps
    Played very badly with stutter and drop-outs

    To add to the list, the deinterlacing performance of the Probox2 wasn’t good and it seems unable to handle VC-1 encodes. We should add that even when 24Hz is manually set as output frequency in the settings, it means exactly 24, meaning that content encoded at 23.976fps has a glitch/hiccup every 41 seconds, or so.

    The ability to play very high bitrate content over the network was rendered near impossible by the lack of a Gigabit Ethernet port so the most the Probox2 could handle was around 55Mbps encodes, which is more than fine for even full Blu-ray rips with HD audio but it won’t be able to handle full UHD rips – if that ever happens.

    High Bitrate

    KODI

    1920 x 1080/AVC/M2TS/23.976fps & 90mbps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 100mbps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 110mbps

    3480 x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps

    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    10-bit 3840x2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps

    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps

    10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps

    We should also say that playback up to 140Mbps HEVC worked OK via USB but failed on anything over that.

    Since the chipset isn’t capable of decoding frame-packed 3D, there was no chance of success with MVC MKV or 3D ISO and we also got the expected results with Top and Bottom and Side by Side content

    3D

    KODI

    1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Played in 2D, no refresh rate switching
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Played in 2D, no refresh rate switching
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side
    Had to maunually engage TV mode/ no refresh rate switching
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom Had to maunually engage TV mode/ no refresh rate switching

    At least the ISO and MKV played in 2D, albeit without refresh rate switching (of course) and the TV played the Top and Bottom/Side by Side when manually switched to the mode. This is very much par for the course with almost every media player.

    The Probox2 Air comes with the promise of 5.1 and 7.1 audio playback and it partially lives up to the billing.

    Audio

    KODI

    AAC (Dolby Digital) 5.1
    Played 2.0
    AC3 (DTS) 5.1
    Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
    Played 2.0
    Dolby True HD 5.1
    Played as PCM 2.0
    Dolby True HD 7.1
    Played as PCM 2.0
    DTS HD-MA 5.1
    Played as DTS Core 5.1
    DTS HD-HR 7.1
    Played as DTS Core 7.1
    DTS HD-MA 7.1
    Played as DTS Core 7.1
    LPCM 7.1
    Played as PCM 2.0

    When it comes to Dolby audio, in all its guises, 2.0 pass-through or decode is the best this box can manage, which is pretty poor but it’s better than nothing, we guess. DTS codecs are better supported, however, with cored DTS 5.1 presenting no problems, so a lot of Blu-ray rips are covered but you are also limited to core DTS with the HD and (likely) Atmos formats.

    How future-proof is this video streamer?

    4K Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second
    HEVC decoding Full HD
    HEVC decoding Ultra HD
    7 Channel HD Audio pass-through
    Netflix HD/4K
    3D ISO playback
    HDMI 2.0
    Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates
    Manufacturer version of KODI

    Video Review


    Conclusion

    6
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • The Remote+ is quite good
    • Nice UI
    • Quite snappy for non-media playback use
    • OTA software updates

    Cons

    • Came pre-loaded with piracy add-ons
    • No dynamic refresh rate switching
    • No HD audio pass-trough
    • All Dolby formats limited to 2.0
    • Microphone didn't work
    • SPMC unusable
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Probox2 Air Android TV Box Review

    Should I buy one

    Well, if you’ve not just scan read the preceding paragraphs, you don’t really need us to answer that question for you but, if you’ve just skipped to the conclusion (how dare you?), we’ll give you an unusually definitive answer – no, don’t. The Probox2 Air isn’t a disaster, in an all-round sense. It runs fairly smoothly, the interface is quite pretty and easy to navigate and, if you plump for the version with the Remote+ controller, it’s very usable with a large range of the millions of available Android apps on Google Play but, as a media player, there are much better TV boxes on the market. The fact that the Probox2 Air leaves the manufacturer with a pre-loaded KODi stuffed full of piracy add-ons would be reason enough for us to not to recommend the device but, on top of that, it lacks features such as dynamic refresh rate switching and HD audio pass-through, which are crucial for AV fans. Sorry, Probox, but it’s back to the drawing board.

    What else is there?

    If we use the Remote+ model as a comparison, for £85 you can bag a Wetek Hub which, disappointing remote aside, utterly trounces the Probox in most departments. For another £5 you could pick up a Zidoo X8S, which is billed as being performance-equivalent to the X9S which, again, is in another league to the ‘Air,’ as a media player. For about £100 (November 2016), our money would go on a Minix U1 with A2 Air-mouse remote, unless frame-packed 3D was a requirement. Although if you just want to play a few games, look at Facebook and don’t really care all that much about absolute media fidelity, the Probox2 Air is actually perfectly fine.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    6

    Performance

    6

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    5

    Features

    6

    Set up, Menus, Remote

    7

    Value for Money

    6

    Verdict

    6

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